The Perceptions of A Bad Brand. Marketers setting off on a journey of bad-brand transformation would do well to recognise something: it’s an inside-out, soul-searching metamorphosis that’s not for the wusses or the wallflowers.

Brand perceptions are formed, hardened and fixed by experience. Humans can’t let go of an existing belief until a new one takes its place. That means bad perceptions will only change when you do. And changing our behavior is hard. We often resist change right up until it threatens our very existence – like a smoker who won’t kick the habit until faced with the starkest choice.

Owners of weak or badly perceived brands are very good (very bad) at this. Even when the decay is plain to see from the outside in, it can take years of sliding sales and value decline before the leadership team wakes up and faces up to what needs to be done.

This is especially true of iconic brands that were once leaders but are now left in the wake of new startups with new business models. I’ve witnessed first-hand the action-freezing complacency and hey-ho attitude that favours sticking with the status quo while a brand loses its market share, its relevance and its customers.

When the reaction finally comes, the default is often to hit the big red panic button, which either:

Brings a new agency on board (after all, the previous agency was to blame for your failings, right?).

  1. Churns out a new logo.
  2. Produces a chunky ID guideliness
  3. Prints a new brochure
  4. Launches an expensive new techincal tour deforce website
  5. Pushes out a new ad campaign.
  6. Rushes out some social media posts.

Changing Perceptions of A Bad Brand. The truth is though, the red button doesn’t work anymore. It falsely raises the expectation of change but delivers nothing but frustration and more negativity.

Changing perceptions of a bad brand

Meaningful Change first requires honest internal assessment and deep and uncomfortable introspection. This is the only way to uncover the truths that matter. It’s a difficult thing for busy marketing teams to do – especially when their performance is reviewed on a short-term quarterly basis and the temptation is to offer up a quick fix to prove they’re doing the job. But you can’t begin the journey of changing negative external perceptions without internal clarity, togetherness and a consensus of WHY your brand exists and WHY it’s gone bad.

And when you’ve done that, there are only really two strategic options available to you: Continue to invest in the current brand or invent a whole new one from scratch.

Turning it around

If you choose to commit to your current brand, there’s one thing you must understand: What got you here won’t get you there. Success on this road depends on how well you can help your customers unlearn their negative associations.

Changing Perceptions of A Bad Brand – Starbucks (as well as AGA, Barbour, Hunters and Bentley) is a good example of how the customer perception of an under-performing brand can be changed. After twenty years of strong expansion, the very thing that made the brand great was contributing to its ultimate demise. The brand also faced growing threats from unlikely competitors such as McDonalds who were on a change march themselves due to the changing attitude towards junk food and ‘fat kid’ brand perceptions.

Starbucks raised its game by changing nearly every aspect of its customer experience from the inside out. And they didn’t stop there – they also conducted a total operational overhaul behind the scenes, so all of their staff members were invested in the success of the new model brand. Today Starbucks is enjoying the fruits of its leadership position once again. But there can be no doubt that it was a very expensive journey!

Starting from scratch

Sometimes, inventing a new brand from the ground up may be a more sensible option than attempting to change hideous brand perceptions. This is true if the brand’s positioning, heritage or negativity has you boxed into a market segment that has no purpose or future.

Black & Decker is a brand that faced this hefty conundrum. When the market for consumer power tools began to get much more competitive, Black & Decker decided to expand into the trade market. But construction professionals considered Black & Decker to be for odd jobers and DIY dads. Not the kind of product they’d ever want to be seen with on a building site. So Black & Decker invented the DeWalt brand. DeWalt has been a splendid success for Black & Decker. The brand commands a far higher price point, and a good percentage of the market doesn’t even realise that DeWalt products are made by Black & Decker. Success.

Whichever route you take, half-heartedness will only lead to disappointment and waste. The only way to fix a bad brand is with clear purpose, deliberate steps and the determination to stay the course. Change isn’t easy. But it can happen.

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